Today's news -- December 13, 2013



Gaetz calls for new round of public-employee retirement legislation

Senate President Don Gaetz said lawmakers should make another attempt to pass legislation addressing Florida's retirement system for public employees, but take a different approach than a measure that died earlier this year. "I want to want to work with Speaker (Will) Weatherford to pass legislation this year that will strengthen our city and county retirement systems, and will secure the future for our state retirement system as well," he said this morning during a breakfast meeting with reporters. Last legislative session, the House approved a measure that would have closed the state's defined-benefit pension plan to new employees, and required them to enroll in the 401(k)-style investment plan. The measure foundered in the Senate amid opposition from Democrats and some Republicans. Gaetz said lawmakers have not settled on a specific proposal, but have begun "a search now for common-ground solutions that might have traction in both the Senate and the House." He said legislative leaders are reading up on options such as "cash-balance" systems that combine elements of defined-benefit and defined-contribution plans.

Weatherford, who championed the retirement legislation last session, said he would welcome movement in the Senate. "We really owe it to future generations to stop defending an antiquated, unsustainable, out-of-step-with-the-private-sector system," he said in a statement. The health of Florida's retirement system is expected to improve in the coming years, thanks to growing returns on its investments and hundreds of millions of dollars in increased financial contributions approved by lawmakers.  Citing fiscal woes in other states that under-funded their pension systems, Gaetz said lawmakers should make changes now, while the retirement is in good condition. "Those states that have sort of said, 'we'll worry about it when the place is on fire,' those states are in serious trouble, because they're draining funds away from from other critical needs at the city or state or county level to deal with pensions," he said.


Another report calls for major changes based on little evidence

A recent report that calls for an extensive restructuring of schools, classes and teaching positions lacks data to support its premises or evidence to bolster its recommendations, a new review published Wednesday concludes. Patricia Hinchey, an education professor at Penn State University who has written extensively on teaching and teacher assessment, reviewed the report An Opportunity Culture for All for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado. An Opportunity Culture for All was published in September 2013 by Public Impact, a consulting firm based in Chapel Hill, N.C., and was written by the organization’s co-directors, Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel. Public Impact in its consulting work promotes school turnarounds, charter schools and market-based education reforms, and it has published several recent reports advocating the changes outlined in the September report. The report contends that only one in four teachers is good enough to help close achievement gaps, and that current efforts to recruit and retain excellent teachers are inadequate. The Hassels propose restructuring teaching to create hierarchically organized teaching teams, headed by a small group of relatively highly paid teachers. This approach does not primarily call for larger class sizes, but it does make teachers accountable for greater numbers of students, Hinchey writes. As she explains, “a teacher might have 10 groups of 25 students and still not have increased class size -- at least not what the authors call ‘effective class size,’ or ‘the number of students actually with a teacher at one time.’ While the teachers’ student load is much higher and the teachers are responsible for far more students, the wording and approach allows them the claim of leaving ‘effective class sizes on par or smaller.’” To make this arrangement feasible, teachers would be assisted by more paraprofessionals and by more digital instruction. Educators would also be expected to work longer hours. In her review, Hinchey finds the report to lack empirical grounding. Why, for instance, should policymakers trust that paraprofessionals and digital technology can provide instruction comparable to that offered by fully trained teachers? In addition, while the report’s goal is increased teacher excellence, “it offers no specific means of identifying and assessing that quality,” Hinchey writes. The report’s assumption that 75 percent of current teachers are inadequate is offered with no evidence, Hinchey finds; additionally, she writes, it ignores research indicating that the reliable and comprehensive assessment of teacher quality and its distribution is staggeringly difficult. Even the report’s implicit argument that teachers alone can close the achievement gap ignores research evidence showing that most of the variance in student outcomes is attributable to factors far outside the classroom, Hinchey points out. And, she writes, the report ignores directly relevant research in topics that include teacher assessment, teacher burnout and teacher attrition. “Overall, the proposal is based on unsupported assumptions, assertions and projections -- wishes and beliefs that if the approach were put into practice, it would somehow play out to the benefit of students,” Hinchey concludes. “Lacking an empirical base, the report is not a useful guide for policy.”


Teachers, Palm Beach district hammer out tentative raise agreement (Lynn Cavall quoted)


Sales tax idea floated to cover capital needs for Marion schools


Post-Newtown school-security changes stick in Central Florida,0,5778220.story


Tussle over MacDill charter school hurts children


Schools use web tools, and data is seen at risk


State civics program halts distribution of pamphlet from religious group


Rightwing group attacks teachers unions


Court declares Washington state charter law unconstitutional


Bennett now advising ACT on new Common Core test


Pearson’s charity, accused of seeking profits, will pay millions


Sentence cut in Texas for school official jailed in test scandal


FAMU on track to hire president by January 9


NYU grad students vote to unionize


Education department targets for-profit colleges


Budget surplus a chance to address spending needs as well as tax cuts


Scott to push for $400 million cut in vehicle fees


Scott's big fee cut is no sure thing


As problems persist with Florida's unemployment website, Crist calls for investigation


Scott bemoans those losing health insurance, forgets his own culpability


Lawmakers: Eliminating prepaid dental plan would hurt kids


Foreclosure activity dips but Florida still leads nation


Citizens insurance wants to hire a lawyer for $1 million


“Landmark” water proposals coming in 2014 session


Feds join the battle against citrus disease


Governor making disappointing choices for Florida


House passes budget pact and military abuse protections, but not farm bill


Senate GOP opposition to budget deal grows


The bipartisan budget deal and the economy: the beatings continue


Jobless fear looming cutoff of benefits


A small victory: For now, hands off Social Security


American class war: plutocracy vs. democracy


North Carolina shows why the Voting Rights Act is still needed


Why the Roberts Court’s anti-consumer decisions are even worse than they seemed


Attempts at flood rate relief fall short in Congress


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